Monday, March 18, 2013

From Home, With Love... And Maté.

Given their history of clashes – most notably over same-sex marriage and the distribution of free contraceptives – many expected Pope Francis' meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner this morning to make for some sort of showdown.

Apparently, none was had – and in an act without recent Vatican precedent, Su Santidad invited Señora Presidente to stay for lunch. 

For purposes of context, not even John Paul II – that is, he who invited half the known world for a meal (or so it seemed) – would dine with the world leaders who came calling. And with B16, lunch and dinner were essentially off-limits for "work" purposes; few if any bishops were welcomed at his table... even as Hans Küng was.

Perhaps most sweetly of all, the head of state came bearing a favorite gift for Papa Bergoglio – a traditional Argentine gourd of maté: the tea-like herbal drink of which Francis is especially fond, and took to enjoying on the spot.

As longstanding Vatican protocol forbids the Pope being seen consuming anything but the Eucharist, well, there goes another one.

Even for their disagreements, it wouldn't have benefited either side to rehash them in this new context. It especially pays for Kirchner to make nice, however – she'll have to deal with whoever Francis taps as his successor in Buenos Aires... and given the sudden surge of pride and affection back home for the Argentine Pope, Bergoglio might be an even greater force on the domestic front from Rome than he was in the "Paris of the South." (Beyond the geographic significance of his election, that a Pope hails from a country which has given full legal recognition to gay unions marks another significant turning point
, irrespective of what one might make of it.)

With official delegations from over 100 countries expected for tomorrow's inauguration of the new pontificate, the Pope will greet each immediately following the liturgy standing before the main altar of St Peter's Basilica. (Led by Vice President Joe Biden, the US group will include New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez, the House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and – in a nod to the first Jesuit pontiff – John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, the nation's first Catholic college and in the Company's hands since its founding in 1789.)

Back home, meanwhile, Buenos Aires is preparing to go all out for the "Launch Mass." At the end of an all-night vigil in the capital's cathedral, a pre-dawn march will be held to the city's Obelisco monument, where a massive jumbotron will be waiting to show the rites live from Rome.